Expert advice

Legal advice: Can I offer nursing or medical advice using social media? 

Offering health advice via social media is fraught with problems as you do not have access to all the information you need and could be in danger of working outside your competence, warns legal expert Marc Cornock.
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Offering health advice via social media is fraught with problems as you do not have access to all the information you need and could be in danger of working outside your competence, warns legal expert Marc Cornock

Giving diagnosis, treatment or care advice via social media, including by text and email, can be fraught with issues.

If it is purely a social media contact, you may not know who the person is, their age or any past medical history. Even if you know the person outside of social media, you may still not be fully aware of their medical history and any current treatment they are receiving, including medication.

As you do not have access to any diagnostic tests, and cannot undertake a personal examination, you have to rely solely on what the person has posted and are unable to verify

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Offering health advice via social media is fraught with problems as you do not have access to all the information you need and could be in danger of working outside your competence, warns legal expert Marc Cornock

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Picture: iStock

Giving diagnosis, treatment or care advice via social media, including by text and email, can be fraught with issues.

If it is purely a social media contact, you may not know who the person is, their age or any past medical history. Even if you know the person outside of social media, you may still not be fully aware of their medical history and any current treatment they are receiving, including medication.

As you do not have access to any diagnostic tests, and cannot undertake a personal examination, you have to rely solely on what the person has posted and are unable to verify its accuracy. This makes any diagnosis difficult.

Even with a diagnosis, it is highly unlikely you will know what previous treatment the person has received, any allergies they have, what mediation they are on and any contraindications related to this and their condition.

Area of expertise

These are all things you would normally take into consideration. It is difficult to give health advice without full information.

Another issue is ensuring you stay within your professional competencies. When giving advice in an informal setting it can be tempting to stray outside of your area of expertise, and consider symptoms or treatments outside your competence.

You also need to consider why the person is asking you for advice. Is it because they know you are a nurse? Or are you voluntarily offering advice to someone who has posted their symptoms?

Either way, you need to remember that any time you use your professional knowledge, skills or competence you are subject to the same accountability and liability as you would be in your workplace.

In short, don’t give nursing advice over social media. The best advice you can give is to tell the person to seek help from a relevant healthcare professional.


Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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